by Nate Reinhart
The imminent death of cookies is upon us. No need to call Sweet Martha or the Cookie Monster for a wellness check. Their hobbies/livelihoods aren’t going anywhere. I’m talking about the internet cookies used by digital marketers to serve you ads based on your web history.
If you’ve been on the internet before—and I’m guessing you have—you’ve experienced cookie-based targeted advertising through your browser. You go on a site to buy something, decide you’re not ready, then visit another site and BOOM! You see an ad for that thing you were just shopping for. There might even be a discount code or free shipping attached to lure you back to the site. (If you’d like a more detailed breakdown of how this works, check out this article from Marketing Land.)
The case for cookies is that they allow for a better online shopping and advertising experience, because they serve up ads for things you actually care about. The case against is that they’re intrusive and can jeopardize your privacy—even if the data are anonymized end-to-end. Safari and Firefox have already removed cookie support from their browsers, and Google Chrome recently made headlines by announcing the end cookie support by the end of 2021. Since Google is now one of the world’s largest advertising companies, that was particularly big news.
As stewards of our clients’ marketing dollars, Media Bridge stays on top of this shifting universe to make sure we allocate ad dollars correctly. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we do have some educated opinions on how advertising could shift in a post-cookie world.
Digital advertising will become more about content alignment.
Advertisers may turn to strategic ad placements on sites/channels with a viewer base that closely overlaps with the target audience. This could manifest through native advertising on news websites (e.g., a restaurant chain buys inventory on the food page of a local publication website). Or it could be buying impressions on a specific YouTube channel, like a college/university reaching high schoolers by advertising on a video game streamer’s channel. Similar to how traditional advertising is bought in most cases, you don’t need to rely on targeting options if you’re buying the placement. (Additionally, this is a good work-around for advertisers who need to work around HIPAA guidelines.)
Social media advertising will replace Google advertising dollars.
This likely applies to all social media advertising based on profiles and activity, but I’ll speak directly to Facebook/Instagram ads for simplicity. Facebook and Instagram benefit from cookies, but they also benefit from your profile because you tell them exactly who you are. They can also tell where you’re from based on where the majority of your pictures are posted, as well as what other pages you’ve liked or interacted with. Knowing that this is all first-party data, Facebook/Instagram could further use this data instead of cookie-based ads, which could open the flood gates to advertising dollars flowing in from cookie-based sources. The downside: Inventory likely won’t change much, which means that the cost of advertising on these platforms will likely increase.
Advertising could actually get … creepier?
We’ve all heard stories about how “Big Data” is listening to you through your phone and other devices. This is true because of the app agreements you agreed to but didn’t read due to their length and microscopic font size. It’s not a conspiracy that you talked about cat food and then got hit with cat food ads. This type of advertising isn’t cookie-based, so advertisers and publishers might take it even further by developing more “conversation-based” targeting offerings.
Device IDs and location data will become more important.
The same devices we were just talking about also have identification tags of random letters and numbers to differentiate them. These IDs can be used to reach individual users and tie multiple devices together within a household via WiFi. If ad companies can identify these device graphs within each household, they can get a pretty good idea about who’s living there and what their habits are. Similarly, our mobile devices know where we are at all times, as long as they have some level of service. The technology already exists to sell ads to people who’ve visited a specific location. In a post-cookie world, that will only increase.
Traditional advertising will grow more effective and popular.
The ability to reach consumers a hundred different ways through digital targeting is what made it so effective and appealing to advertisers. If that level of targeting is no longer possible, then we’re likely to reopen the conversation about advertising on radio, TV, out-of-home and even print—which can be extremely targeted depending on the audience you’re trying to reach. These traditional mediums have remained effective, but there’s a cost associated with them because you’re buying “one to many” instead of “one to one.” That barrier to entry becomes less inhibiting when a digital buy isn’t any more targeted than reaching women 35-54 on a contemporary hits radio station.
Program-based digital audio and OTT will see increased interest from advertisers— especially those with lower budgets.
If digital ad targeting gets harder and less effective, then streaming audio and video could offer great solutions for advertisers who want targeting without having to buy an entire TV or radio station. These mediums are bought on a CPM basis, which allows advertisers to choose how many impressions they want for their budget. They’re great for those who like to spend a little bit on digital advertising but can’t afford to buy radio or TV. While these mediums have cookie-based targeting elements, you can also buy based on the programming being watched. That’s likely to expand as the world pivots in this way. You could also target users based on the data they’ve provided about themselves in signing up for the various streaming services (e.g., age, gender, geography, email address).
Advertising has evolved with technology, and it will continue to do so. Time will tell if taking a step back to put consumers’ minds at ease will rebuild some of the trust that’s been lost from intrusive advertising. My hope is that even if the cookies in our browsers get eaten, the cookies in our collective pantries will stay well-stocked. (My favorite is good old-fashioned Nestle Tollhouse, how about you?)